Kids and Art

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Recently Jake Chapman, famous for his controversial installation pieces with brother Dinos, stoked the perpetually seething flames of internet rage with his comments about children looking at art. His statements ranged, the most incendiary about a child looking at a Pollock. [It’s] “like saying… it’s as moronic as a child”, said Chapman, adding “children are not human yet.” Since children looking at art is kinda our bread and butter at the Artstroller, Chapman’s comments got me thinking. In a sense, he’s right. There is some futility in taking a child to an art gallery. Art (especially art like Chapman’s) is about raising the level of spectacle to the highest degree. Through spectacle, artists can elicit in adults that thing that children take for granted: wonder.

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It’s not that art is “too good” for kids, but the other way around. When you’re two, everything in the world holds fantastic possibility, there are no limits. If everyone around you is making art, there’s no reason to think it isn’t as natural as breathing or eating. Of course learning is a process of paring this endless possibility down, assigning a hierarchy to objects and people and thoughts. It’s both exhilarating and painful to watch a child learn, because knowledge unlocks some doors (reading, communicating) and slams others shut (falling, learning patience.) Wading through the Jesus Soto Houston Penetrable at the MFAH yesterday morning clarified this distinction for me. I thought about Latin American op-art, minimalism, the struggles of being a museum preparator who has to install this thing, or a guard who spends entire days untangling plastic tubes. But Clementine tried at least six different ways of walking through this installation. She “found” other bright-eyed kids inside and mimicked them or startled them or was startled by them.

Jay Shin at Barbara Davis

Jay Shin at Barbara Davis

Ed Wilson

Ed Wilson

So here’s the secret: when I lug Clementine through hushed galleries to look at art that is full of the best examples of adult “wonder,” it’s not so much for her absorption of those objects. I don’t see museums or galleries as a kind of medicine or health food; something to do because it’s good for you. Kids don’t need to have their minds cracked open by spectacle, because they’re already there. But in order to function normally in life, she’ll have to close a few of those doors…already has. It’s my hope that by making art a part of our “normal” experience, she’ll find that transcendent balance between knowledge and wonder. That’s a thrilling place to be, and for me the only essential qualification for being an artist.

Inside Paul Kittleson's whale

Inside Paul Kittleson’s whale

Special thanks to Anne Ferrer for sending me the link to Jake Chapman’s comments.

3 thoughts on “Kids and Art

  1. When I heard Chapman’s comments, your blog immediately sprung to mind. Thanks for your explanation of why you take Clementine to galleries. I think children can (and should) be taken to many galleries and help us see things in the art which our preconceptions prevent us from seeing. I am considering avoiding visiting galleries that discourage children.

    • That’s a good policy, I think. Thankfully most galleries, museums, and even art fairs have been very welcoming. I wonder how I would feel about bringing her along if there were a J & D Chapman retrospective in or near Houston, though. They’re definitely not two-year-old friendly or appropriate, but I guess I’m going to have to start thinking about where to draw the “content” line.

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